MAS 837 Ancient civilizations of the East, Fieldtrip to Borobudur, Java Indonesia 2017

It is a little known fact that Borobudur, a UNESCO world heritage site, is made known to the world while Sir Stamford Raffles was pacifying Java (and systematically cataloguing monuments) as part of his tenure as Lieutenant-Govenor of the East Indies. It might be reminded that the lion city myth of Singapore associated with Sang Nila Utama from Palembang were places and personage(s) that were functioning under the aegis of the Srivijaya-Sailendra dynasty (not without debate) ruling roughly from the 7th to 14th centuries. Borobudur was built under the sponsorship of the Sailendras who during the period (8-9th centuries) was supposed to have also lorded over the Mataram kingdom in Java.

Students taking the MAS 837 course explored India, China and Southeast Asia in the classical period associated with the last. Going to Borobudur was not just about exploring Southeast Asia, Nalanda in India was a (still) place of visit for Buddhist pilgrims from China where the religion was flourishing, and these pilgrims travelled to Borobudur before returning to China. Students on this trip had a chance to visit the Prambanan temples built as part of the Hindu renaissance in the 9th century as well as the successor to the Mataram kingdom (in the form of the palace of the Mataram sultanate).

Students felt the stories of Sudhana and Ramayana discussed in the classroom came alive on the reliefs of the walls of Borobudur and Prambanan. Students also applied themselves to take notes and measurements of the artefacts they saw more carefully and meticulously (so that they can apply these in essays should they choose to write on the topic). The syncretism in the histories and cultures involved meant that learnings from the trip are not limited to those who went but shared with the rest of the class who are interested in a variety of topics in ancient China, India or Southeast Asia; along with snacks brought back from Jogjakarta.